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Thursday, May 14, 2009


Let’s cut right to the chase: the current installment in Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN is the first part of a trilogy and frankly doesn’t offer much other than what I hope is a setup for a big eventual payoff, so I say wait for the collected edition of all three parts. That’s the short of it and the long is about to follow, so if you don’t want to read spoilers bail right now.


This 72-page first section of a trilogy takes place in 1910 (hence the chapter’s title) — twelve years after the thwarted Martian invasion of Volume II and forty-eight years preceding the Byzantine events of THE BLACK DOSSIER — and finds Mina Murray heading a new League. The 1910 lineup of the team consists of Mina, gender-shifting immortal Orlando (now male and annoying past the point of endurance), psychic “the Great Karnacki,” gentleman thief A.J. Raffles, and Alan Quatermain, Jr., who’s actually the very much rejuvenated original passing himself off as his own son (said rejuvenation is mentioned in THE BLACK DOSSIER but goes unexplained here), and to be perfectly blunt this crew is a Mongolian cluster-fuck, a sorry fact they themselves admit. But be all that as it may, this mismatched crew find themselves pitted against a quasi-satanic/Crowley-esque figure and his creepy cult of followers, a group bent on bringing about some sort of Lovecraftian apocalypse, a hoary plot that I’ve read far too many times, and frankly I’m completely fucking sick of it. During the course of their investigation, Mina and her team accomplish fuck all and resign themselves to the fact that the foreseen apocalypse will most likely appear at some point in the future, along with an across the board consensus that they are useless as a functional entity.

While the main group’s dysfunction devolves into a mediocre soap opera — with Orlando being so flamingly irritating that he came dangerously close to turning this gay-friendly reader into a fag-basher of the worst order — the narrative contains two seemingly unrelated sub-plots, one featuring the song-rife return to London of serial murderer Macheath (he of THE THREE PENNY OPERA notoriety), and the woeful misadventures of former League member Captain Nemo’s daughter, Janni.

The latter sub-plotline is a story within the actual story, while Macheath’s lyrical excesses baffle me as to their exact narrative point (the less said about that, the better). Janni is a willful type who has been at odds with her father since day one (for no explained reason), and when her father makes the deathbed request that she take on his mantle, Janni all-too-predictably rails against him and a major argument ensues in what I have read is Punjabi, rendered in punjabu script without benefit of translation so those of us unfamiliar with the language, written or otherwise, have no fucking clue as to what’s being said by either party. Janni runs (swims, actually) away from home and stows away aboard a conveniently-passing British passenger ship to become a put-upon scullery maid at a dodgy hotel on a sleazy London waterfront that’s simply crawling with whores and drunken low-lives. Exactly what she sought to accomplish by that questionable move is anyone’s guess, and no explanation is provided. Ishmael — yes, that Ishmael — tracks her down and informs her of her father’s death, requests she honor her father’s dying wish, and gives her a flare gun with which to signal him (and the crew of nearby super-submarine Nautilus) should she change her mind. The petulant princess kicks Ishmael out on his ass, only to find herself set up by the hotel’s proprietor for a back alley gang rape by a number of his inebriated clients. Following that bit of thankfully off-panel brutality, Janni signals the Nautilus crew and unleashes them upon the neighborhood in a horrifying orgy of bloody plunder and vengeance that reduces what appears to be several city blocks to flaming rubble as she saves her assailants for last before accepting her destiny as their pirate queen. Meanwhile, scores of innocent people unrelated to her violation are mercilessly and pointlessly wiped out, presumably to provide some action for the reader, but I found it merely depressing and utterly gratuitous.

So, great. Another heroine motivated to power and greatness by rape. I was offended by that old saw when I first encountered it at the age of nine when reading Red Sonja’s origin and have seen it countless times since then, so I’m fucking tired of that cliché too and expected something more clever from Alan Moore, but I guess not everything can be MIRACLEMAN or SWAMP THING…

While Moore has made a career of addressing assorted storytelling tropes and often spinning gold from them, I found this chapter to be a huge disappointment and hope it will work better when seen as a part of the completed whole. It was worth reading for O’Neill’s engaging artwork, and I did like Janni and hope to see what she evolves into, but why give us eighty pages of a League that’s a pack of losers and subject us to the THE THREE PENNY OPERA stuff? If I want to experience THE THREE PENNY OPERA, I’ll experience THE THREE PENNY OPERA as its own entity and not endure Moore being “artsy” (translation: “lazy and pretentious”) by using it to serve as a lyrical commentary on the events of his story. So THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN-CENTURY: 1910 was a big disappointment for me, but, as previously stated, maybe it’ll pay off when all is said and done.

Oh, I neglected to mention the requisite prose piece that rounds out the book, but it’s another example of Moore’s sometimes tedious writing in the style of old school pulps, notable solely to me for its inclusion of a not-mentioned-by-name Stardust the Super Wizard of I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS infamy. But, fuck it; it was seventy-two pages, and even though I was able to read the entire thing over the course of a half hour subway ride, it was at least a meaty disappointment. I await the next two chapters before I pass full and final judgment. Yer Bunche has spoken!


John Bligh said...

I too found the Three Penny Opera crap annoying and useless as well. It seemed as if Moore just got lazy in his scripting at times.

Still, I've read far worse. Even this month! So I'll give part two a very cautious try.

Anonymous said...

This review reminds me why I don't keep up with Moore. Of everything in his well-used trick bag, I like the rape obsession the least. The day someone in this business has the balls to rape a male character, (so to speak), I'm there.

Bunche said...

Well, Mr. Hyde did quite memorably rape the Invisible Man to death in THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOL. II, and CENTURY does depict one of the vengeful Nautilus crewman raping one of Janni's assailants at knife point in one panel, so do those count?